On Sunday, January 13, 2019 NVC and NVC Foundation co-sponsored a screening at the University of Washington of an NHK-World-Japan documentary, Houses for Peace: Exploring the Legacy of Floyd Schmoe. The documentary focuses on how Quaker peace activist Floyd Schmoe (1895-2001) organized an interracial volunteer group from Seattle to go to Japan in 1949 to build houses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki for atomic bomb survivors. It highlights how this interracial, interfaith coalition came together to work for peace and the legacy of that act of peace building.
This screening program is part of the Uncommon Stories series of programs initiated by Tosh Okamoto in 2016 through the collaboration of Nisei Veterans Committee / NVC Foundation, the University of Washington Department of American Ethnic Studies, the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle, and the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle. For this Houses for Peace program, in addition to the major sponsor, NHK-World-Japan, other supporting organizations included the University of Washington Libraries, Seattle JACL, Seattle Hiroshima Club, and the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington.
The documentary explores the life of Floyd Schmoe, who was a lifelong Quaker and worked for peace throughout his life. During World War I, as a conscientious objector, he volunteered with the Red Cross to help wounded soldiers and with the Quaker organized American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to do relief work in Europe, spending most of his fourteen months in Europe building temporary housing for war refugees. After the war, he worked as the first full-time naturalist at Mount Rainier National Park and eventually became an instructor of Forest Biology at the University of Washington. After the outbreak of World War II in Europe, he worked with the AFSC to help resettle Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe through Asian ports.
In 1942 he testified before the Tolan Committee against the forced removal of Japanese Americans. By spring of 1942 he became the head of a new AFSC office in Seattle and aided Japanese Americans facing forced removal and mass incarceration. He worked to place UW Japanese American students at colleges outside the exclusion zone, and throughout the war, he visited and assisted Seattle Japanese Americans at Minidoka, Heart Mountain, and Tule Lake, working to find jobs and sponsors to get them out of the camps. He supported Gordon Hirabayashi in his challenge of the exclusion order and later became Hirabayashi’s father-in-law when Schmoe’s daughter, Esther, married Gordon.
After the war, Schmoe helped resettle Japanese Americans into temporary housing and organized UW student volunteers to help repair the homes of Japanese Americans returning from the camps.
After hearing about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Schmoe made up his mind to build houses for those who lost theirs in the atomic blast as an act of peace building. In 1948 he first visited Hiroshima after bringing milk goats and food and medical supplies to Japan. In the summer of 1949, Schmoe traveled to Hiroshima again with Seattle Japanese Baptist Church minister, the Reverend Emery Andrews; Daisy Tibbs, a recent UW graduate; and Ruth Jenkins to build houses in Hiroshima.
Over the next four years, the “Houses for Hiroshima” project team members consisting of American and Japanese volunteers built multiunit houses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that housed a total of about 100 families using money donated by people from all walks of life, including many Japanese Americans recently released from World War II incarceration camps. The project’s purpose was clearly stated in a sign posted at their building site: “1. To build understanding—2. By building houses—3. That there may be peace.”
The documentary includes interviews with children, now adults, who lived in those houses, which became their homes and refuge from the devastation of war. The interviewees from Nagasaki tell a tale of how all the people living in those homes became one family, united in love and peace, and of one American volunteer, Jim Wilson, who became their surrogate father, as their fathers had all died in the war. In 2012, the last remaining house built by the Houses for Hiroshima project was made into an exhibition facility affiliated with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum that tells the story of this remarkable Houses for Hiroshima peace building effort.
In Nagasaki, a Schmoe apartment building replaced the houses built by the volunteers. Volunteers for this project went on to work on other peace projects throughout their lives—a legacy of their experience with this peacebuilding project.
The documentary concludes with the building of Seattle’s Peace Park. Floyd Schmoe was given many awards by the Japanese, including the Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize in 1988; the prize money was used as the seed money to build Seattle’s Peace Park near the University Bridge. Schmoe’s lifelong commitment and message of peace lives on in this park. The take-away message from this documentary is that individuals can and should take action and collaborate across differences to work for peace.
After the screening, there was a short talk by the NHK producers of the documentary, Kumiko Ogoshi Takai and Jun Yotsumoto, and one of the later American volunteers who built houses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Jean Walkinshaw. In the audience of over 400 were the wife and grandchildren of Schmoe and children of some of the American volunteers. The Schmoe family shared memories of Floyd Schmoe. The Reverend Brooks Andrews spoke about the commitment of his father, the Reverend Emery Andrews, to peace, and the children of Daisy Tibbs Dawson, a member of the first volunteer group and a well-known peace activist and African American educator in Seattle, shared memories of their mother.
Also in the audience were members of the Aki Kurose family. Aki Kurose was a well-known Seattle Quaker peace activist and outstanding teacher for whom Aki Kurose Middle School is named. Kurose was a longtime friend of Schmoe and Daisy Tibbs Dawson. NHK World correspondent, Jun Yotsumoto filmed a special Newsroom Tokyo report on Kurose’s sister, Suma Yagi, and the Kurose family which was broadcast from Tokyo on February 21st. To view go to https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/newsroomtokyo/ or read a web article on this report at https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/backstories/floydschmoe/
NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) is Japan’s sole public broadcaster, operating the nation’s largest domestic and international television network. NHK WORLD-JAPAN is distributed in the Seattle area in collaboration with KBTC on Over-the-air Chanel 28.2 and Comcast (Xfinity) Channel 115. Online live streaming and VOD (video on-demand) services through the free mobile app and the website give viewers access to NHK WORLD-JAPAN anywhere and anytime. Houses for Peace can be viewed online.